"Tell me, ducky, is the season almost over?" Mrs. Bradford questioned in a thick Transatlantic accent of me the night my parents had invited her and Mr. Bradford over for dinner at our large, New
England house in the year 1958. I squirmed underneath her green-eyed gaze, something about the middle-aged, artificial redhead made me uncomfortable, but I couldn't escape her confined in the pure
white and purple decor of our dining room.
"Yes, it should be done at the end of the month." I replied, also in a Transatlantic accent, forcing a patient smile.
"Oh, how delightful! This next game must be a big one, then!" She squeaked excitedly, throwing up her small hands in the air as I watched with amazement that they didn't break off from the weight of her many bejeweled rings. In fact, the woman was covered head to toe in rubies, diamonds and sapphires that it was a shock that she didn't just fall over.
"If he does well next game, it will all be his!" My father broke in. "Scholarships, fame, money, women. Everything!"
He was exaggerating, of course, about fame, money and hopefully about the women, but I did have my hopes set on that athletic scholarship. Here I was in my senior year of high school, star of the baseball team, son of rich New Englanders and what Andrew Hacker might describe as a WASP. That is, a white Anglo-Saxon protestant.
"Dear, you know he already has a woman!" My mother, whom everyone affectionately called Babs, said with a laugh that was a bit too loud and enthusiastic to be sober. "Katherine!"
"Oh, yes. How is the old ball and chain?" Inquired Mr. Bradford, a short, balding man with blue eyes like the peaceful Pacific.
At his question, my father turned to me with a knowing glare. If Mr. Bradford's blue eyes were the Pacific, then my father's gray eyes were the Atlantic. Katherine Remington, my girlfriend, and I had been going out for about two years now after having been basically forced upon each other by our parents. She was a beautiful girl, of course, with dark brown curls and honey-colored eyes. Nice and intelligent, too. However, we never felt anything for each other. Or at least, I didn't feel anything for her, seeing as it was my doing that our relationship never made it past hand-holding. My father was the only one to know this. Such a shrewd and observant man, he would take careful note of every little interaction Katherine and I had. Sometimes, as I laid wide awake in the middle of the night thinking about things, that I felt as though my father always knew that I could never marry. I always felt that I had disappointed him.
"She's fine." Was my curt response.
An instant wave of guilt rushed over me for being so sharp to Mr. Bradford, but Katherine was not a subject that I enjoyed talking about. Love, relationships and women were subjects that I didn't enjoy.
"She's wonderful!" My mother practically shrieked with delight. "You should've seen her at the debutante ball! So lovely, in her rosy dress and shoes!"
As my mother went on about the young girl's dress, to which Mrs. Bradford listened intently, I entertained myself by glancing out the window placed in the middle of our pristine, white walls. It was the only window not to have the dark, rich purple curtains that all the others had. Not that I minded, it gave me a better view of the outside. It was a hot, dark night that easily could've been mistaken for summer. The waning moon was hanging low in the indigo sky with glittering freckles of stars surrounding it.From our house we had a clear view of the ocean, with not a fence, tree or building to interrupt. Just a flat, dark green and empty meadow leading down to a lonely pier with a large, pure white yacht peacefully docked. Every time that I had looked out that window, at that boat, I entertained thoughts of just stealing away to it in the middle of the night and sailing away to some far off land. Free of pressures, free of baseball, and free of these people.
A sharp jab in my rib cage had awoken me from my day dreaming and I was left to face my father's freezing stare. I took this to mean that I was displaying my boredom for our guests and to knock it off before he boxed my ears.
Thankfully, the dinner conversation had drifted away from my doings and onto other subjects, such as the family business, horses, and the affairs of the Eastons that lived down the way. The gathering had gone on longer than expected, and it was past midnight when the Bradfords had decided that they needed their rest and set off for home.
"Thank you so much for having us over!" Mrs. Bradford thanked my parents in an effusive manner.
"Ben, I'll expect to see you for golf this weekend." Mr. Bradford called to my father, with a tip of his fedora on his way out the front door.
We all waved our good-byes, and I stood there and watched the pair walk away, guided by the lights of lamps over to their car where the chauffeur was patiently waiting. As soon as the long, red car had driven out of sight my father slammed the door shut and turned to my mother and I.
"Darling, go to bed." He ordered my mother, in a tired and resigned voice. Her visible drunkenness had thoroughly embarrassed him that night and he was sure that the news of her raucous behavior would spread around the country club soon enough. Though I didn't think she acted so poorly, just a little loud.
Mother opened her mouth and looked as though she was about to say something, but instead closed it and stumbled up the white carpeted stairs. Father then spun around to face me. He wasn't happy, that much was obvious, though I could only imagine what I had done wrong this time.
"Where do you get off, talking to Mr. Bradford that way?" He demanded to know.
"In what way?" I feigned innocence.
"You damn well know. When he asked about Katherine. You know better than to reply in such a way. 'She's fine!' " He scoffed
"I don't see what's so wrong about that. He asked me how she was and I answered."
"Your tone! It was rude and disrespectful. Next time somebody, especially a Bradford, asks how Katherine is, you know what you say?"
"No, what do I say?"
"You say, 'She's doing just lovely and we hope to be married soon.' That's what."
The idea of already deciding to marry Katherine when I had just barely turned eighteen was ludicrous to me. I've never even kissed her, I barely know her and I'm certain that she can't stand me- all of those reasons being my fault- and he expected me to marry her?
"I'm not marrying her. I don't want to." I stated firmly.
"You have to! I'm not going to have everybody circulating the rumor that my son is-" He broke off suddenly, his face turning tomato red with rage as he anxiously paced. "Never mind, get to sleep. You have a game tomorrow."
"No, tell me what this rumor is. I want to know."
Now I had done it. My old man abruptly stopped his pacing and turned to me with gray eyes like daggers prepared to rip through my chest and gouge out my heart. He slammed his large fist on a mahogany side table and heaved a sigh of exasperation. I knew damn well what those rumors were.
"A fairy, son. A queer! God, just go to bed."
He bent down his head slightly and wouldn't meet my eyes. Wringing his massive but soft hands through his thinning blonde hair and squeezing his eyes shut. Perhaps I should've said something that night, patted him on the back or even hugged him, but instead I just quietly made my way up the stairs where I retired to my room for another sleepless night.
The next afternoon was a pleasantly warm, early April day. The sun shined uninterrupted by a single cloud, and I had to bow the peak of my baseball hat to shield my eyes from it's harsh rays. My father hadn't said a word to me at all that morning, wouldn't even look at me. We had simply packed into the car when it was time and set out for the game. As soon as I exited the car, my father pulled me aside. "You better do well today. Make me proud." His words were meant to be encouraging, but they sounded more like a threat. It was a large turnout that day. I could see the Bradfords lounging in the stands, sandwiched in between the Eatons and the Waltons, leaving my disappointed parents no place near them. Mother and Father had to content themselves with being seated next to the Prentons. Mother waved to me from her seat and I waved back with an asymmetrical smile as I made my way to the dugout and seated myself on the warm, wooden bench. Coach Brennan, a tall, middle-aged man with neat brown hair smiled and nodded towards me before returning back to his clipboard. I had been practicing much harder recently, I really wanted that scholarship. Adding extra miles to running and extra hours to practice. My shoes felt a bit tighter today, less supportive. Not painful or anything, just uncomfortable. I ignored this though, surely it wouldn't have effected my playing.
On the other side of the field, where the crowd gathered to support the other team, I noticed Katherine cheerfully seated there. Her long brown curls were pushed back in a pink headband and she was dressed in an expensive, flowing white dress. Obviously, she had taken quite a bit of time to look especially nice today. If she saw me, she made no sign of it. Instead, Katherine was busy wrapping her bare arms around the shoulders of the captain of the other team. Alexander Kennedy was his name. Six foot one, well muscled, square jawed and with wavy auburn hair and the brightest hazel eyes I've ever seen. I silently prayed that my father wouldn't look that way and see their flirtations. Katherine was giggling and letting out a shiny white smile through red painted lips as Alex swayed a bit from her pulling on him. They were speaking, but I was too far away to make it out. Though I did imagine what they might be saying. 'You still with that queer, doll?' Alex would ask. 'Oh, not for long! You're so much better than him!' She would reply.
That was ridiculous, of course. They were most likely speaking of school, or the impending game or of their many achievements. Why on earth would they be talking about me anyways? Aside from baseball, I had nothing going on. I continued to quietly watch them as other players filed in the dugout. A silent jealousy bubbled inside my gut, rising up to my dry throat. Though I couldn't tell who I was jealous of- Alexander or Katherine? Even I have to admit that it's true, that I've had more fantasies than I care to admit, of wrapping my own arms around Alexander's chest and neck, nestling my head in the clear expanse of his skin, just as my girlfriend did now. Every time I've had such a thought come to me, I was quick to force myself to replace it with images of me and some woman engaging in intimate acts. Images that faded as quickly as they came and never made it past me planting a sensual kiss on some blonde's lips. A blonde that occasionally flickered into man. Back then I had to tell myself constantly 'stop it, you're not a fairy.'
Alexander freed himself from Katherine's embrace and took his place on the field as the pitcher. The game had begun. Coach Brennan sent Andrew Darcy on our team up to bat first. A tall and spindly lad, he managed well. The game went on like this for a while, our team managing well, especially with me and Andrew at bat. We shifted between innings and outs, with our team in the lead by 4-3. It was the bottom of the eighth, and my turn to bat came up.
With confident steps, I made my way to the plate and grabbed the thin, black bat. My hands automatically went into the usual position, I raised the bat up next to my cheek and bent my legs. Eyes narrowed at Alexander as he prepared to catapult the ball at me. He gave me a slight nod in respect that I hesitantly returned. The pitch came faster than expected, but I swung hard and thrust the bat forward. A loud crack erupted as the bat made contact with the ball, pushing it out to the outfield. I wasted no time in abandoning my bat and racing as fast as I could around the bases. Something wasn't right, though. I must've landed on my left foot the wrong way, because as I made my way to second base I felt a sudden pop in the back of my heel.
I was down immediately, the side of my face scraping against the light brown dust and dirt. The reaction from the crowd was a mixture of exasperated, aggravated groans, shocked gasps and sympathetic oohs and ahhs. I had never known public humiliation before this moment. Even from the ground of the field I could hear my father cursing me out as he looked on. A daze seemed to cloud up my mind, I couldn't feel anything. I only looked around. There was coach Brennan, shaking his head. You could almost see the disappointment welling up inside him as he turned away, grumbling "I never should've put him in." Katherine had taken notice of my tumble and flitted uncomfortably between standing up and sitting down, but she didn't rush to help me. Mother had covered her eyes and was holding on to Father, who glared coolly straight at me. What scared me most was that the didn't look angry. He simply looked blank.
To my surprise, the first person to come to my aid was Alex. "Oh my god- are you okay? Your ankle!" His eyes were fixed down at my feet, his brow furrowed in concern. I couldn't lift my head to take a look at my heel. I didn't want to know. I had only lay there for a while, fighting and forcing back tears. I'd die before I'd let anybody see me cry. What surprised me even more was the anger that my teammates directed at me. Through their moans and mumbles it was easy to tell they were more upset about the game than anything. It then dawned on me that almost everybody was more upset about the game than my injury.
"I guess we better get this kid to the hospital." Somebody resigned, making me wonder just how badly I hurt my heel if I needed to go to the hospital but didn't garner any help from the others.
In what felt like years, but was probably only minutes, a stretcher came to me. Alex with the help of coach Brennan lifted me up onto it and I was carted away. I'll never know what happened exactly after that due to me giving in to my faintness and blacking out.
When I awoke, I didn't know what time it was or where exactly I was. All that I knew was that I was alone in a small, windowless, gray room, stretched out on a cool bed. My foot had been bandaged up and rested comfortably on a pillow. There were some chairs to the right of me, but they were empty and looked as though nobody has ever used them. There was an aching dryness in my throat, my mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton, my eyes burned and my head was throbbing as though a herd of horses had decided to gallop across my forehead. It was a long while before somebody walked in.
It was my father. He had on the same white shirt and pleated brown pants that he was wearing at the game and stood awkwardly in the corner of the doorway. "Um, hey there." He mumbled while grabbing one hand at his opposite arm and pretending to inspect his watch. With heavy footsteps he lumbered into one of the empty chairs, the one farthest from me.
"How are you feeling?" He quietly asked.
"Confused." I replied. "Where am I?"
"In the hospital. When you fell, there was a problem with your Achilles tendon or something like that."
I mulled over this information for a moment, considering how bad it could possibly be. Surely not that bad if I didn't feel intense pain from my foot.
"Will I be better in time for the next game?" I asked
Father sighed and shook his head. "No, the doctors don't think you will. You won't be able to play for a long time. Maybe not ever again." I appreciated that he didn't sugarcoat a thing and just gave it to me straight. "Your mom's at home, sleeping. She was really worried about you so I just had her get some rest." He continued. At that moment, Mr. Bradford cautiously poked his head into the room. Father waved him in and the balding man sat in the chair next to him.
"That was quite a fall, you had." He spoke. "I guess it just hasn't been a good day for you in general."
"Why? Did something else happen besides this?" I asked
"Oh, sorry. I thought that you had seen your girlfriend in the arms of the other team's captain." I might've felt offended had the sentence come from anyone else, but Mr. Bradford said it gently.
"Yeah, actually I did see that."
Mr. Bradford paused for a moment and turned to meet my father's eyes in the cold silence. Nobody was quite sure of what to say.
"So, no more baseball for you, then?" Mr. Bradford asked
I shrugged. I suppose that I should've felt loss and despair at the news that I might not be able to play baseball again, that I wouldn't get a scholarship and I'd lose my spot on the team. I felt fine though. It was as if some weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I'd prove to them that I would come out stronger from this.
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